Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Right Now in Dresden: Silks and Marmalade, or, How to Avoid the Bathroom Lines and Make Friends

I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room in Dresden, Germany. I came here to visit my friend Maike, but today she is hitch hiking all the way across Germany (an 8 hour trip, which doesn’t even get me out of Texas) to Aachen, her home town, in order to spend her birthday with her family. I had initially decided that I would hitch hike with her as well, since I had never hitch hiked, it was her birthday, a road trip with strangers sounded fun, and it would be nice to meet her people. Instead I went to bed last night with a sore throat, and, upon further inspection, saw that it was covered in white spots- strep, almost assuredly (updated post doctor’s visit- yes, yes it is).

I first met Maike in Vientiane, during a particularly frigid cold season, at a live music dive bar. She was backpacking and had come along with some other travelers to check out the event. We were standing in the unreasonably long line for the bathroom when I told her to come with me, we’d pee outside. From there, the rest is history. She ended up staying in Laos to train the performers at the national circus in aerial silk, and she generously let me tag along and fumble through the fabric with her. We would meet up at coffee shops, both of us dressed conspicuously in two layers of bright leggings topped with booty shorts, and walk to the circus to train. 

She might not look like much during the day...

But she cleans up pretty nice under the lights

Maike patiently coached me, although I did tell her that I thought being yelled at in German was more terrifyingly motivating so she gave me that, too. The atmosphere of the circus was a bit otherwordly, and totally different from the rest of Vientiane. The Lao family of performers lived in rows of low buildings huddled around the big top, dogs roamed freely (along with, at times, a very depressed looking monkey dressed in a tattered suit), and a group of tiny children practiced every day in the small gym, throwing their bodies around the room, ropes, and bars with reckless abandon. 

Next generation

Truly cannot even count how many times I saw them drop each other, and they got right back up and did it again.

Maike and I would train on frayed ropes slung haphazardly from rafters, rings on creaky chains, and silk hung from the very center of the ceiling of the big top, attached by a single, rusted, metal cord, run countless times through a pulley system that looked older than the current communist regime. 

My life in one of Maike's hands

Old school

Cold season long gone, we climbed and rolled and wrapped through the thick fabric in the hot season air, leaving every time drenched in sweat, covered in the fine grime of dust that lived everywhere, rushing off to a place to sit and eat and drink as much water as we could while talking for hours. At the end of her time in Laos Maike performed with the circus, and I showed up to do her hair and make-up and generally gush over how beautiful she looked in the handsewn, sequin encrusted costume the circus folk had lent her. 

Being with Maike at the circus was a singularly strange and decidedly Laos experience- from getting to know her, to spending time in the subculture of circus families and their day to day lives, to learning some fundamentals in an art form I’ve come to love (and wish I could do more of). It reminds me that having zero filter, and doing things like offering to take a stranger to pee in the bushes, often results in connections that might otherwise be missed.

My first day in Dresden Maike picked me up on her bike from the bus stop and we walked along the river, taking in the quintessential Dresden old town skyline while catching up on the last year and a half. It was hot, my pack was heavy, and I was starving, but it was perfect to be reunited again. Her friend, Tim, was at the apartment, cooking ahead of our arrival, so when we showed up to her place the kitchen was filled with food in various stages of preparation. His brother joined us and we all sat down to a traditional German dinner, talking for hours about language and politics and circus and everything in between. I was exhausted so I went to bed while they went out to a festival. Maike’s roommate was out of town so I had a little sun filled, wooden floored room to myself, and stretching out on that full bed after the last week in hostel bunks was amazing.

Maike leading the way

First view Dresden

The next morning I woke up to Maike and Tim in the kitchen with a sack full of freshly baked bread and a table laden with an assortment of spreads, butter, and marmalade. The counters were covered in more jars of marmalade; Maike told me she and Tim had made them. I asked when, fully expecting something like “last weekend” or “a few days ago”, but instead I got “Oh, last night- we went dumpster diving after the festival and found a lot of fruit, so when we got home we made it at about one a.m. We thought we would wake you up and you would think all Germans were strange people who make marmalade in the middle of the night.” Dear reader, the marmalade, spooned out of a re-used pickle jar, was delicious.

I’m finishing up this post in a Starbucks, my first dose of antibiotics under my belt, and right about now Maike is hopefully hitching a successful ride straight to Aachen. Maybe not all Germans make marmalade in the middle of the night from trash fruit, or let strangers take them to pee in bushes, or decide to present themselves as trainers for circus performers in SE Asia, but this German girl I dearly love certainly does and that’s pretty much perfect to me. Happiest of birthdays, Maike. 

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